Last week a tiny corner of the internet was having a small public quasi-freakout over the term “rape gaze,” a fake genre term used to connote an even tinier corner of music that is beat-based, generally depressed, slovenly, greasy (hairwise) and presumably surfing a giant vicodin wave. Salem is the clump-headed flagship band and writers feeling coin-y have also described their genre as “witch house” which is annoying and dumb but servicable as shorthand goes. So another band that kinda falls into this category, Brooklyn’s Creep (one of whose members I am friendly with both in my capacity as a journalist and in her capacity to be rad), jokingly coined the term “rape gaze” as a spoof on the ridiculosity of the “witch house” tag. They had this up on their myspace page for like, eons, but no one picked it up really until last week, when Pitchfork reviewed Salem’s album King Night (awesome record) and offhandedly threw in the term “rape gaze” in a little list of terms that people call their type of music. No context: not really that good an idea! So then a smart friend and awesome dude/writer Zach Baron called up Creep’s Lauren Flax (aforementioned rad chick) for clarification/etymology in the Village Voice because like, yo, what the fuck. She was pretty flip about it in the spirit with which it was coined—basically as a friend-joke between her and her bandmate, Lauren Dillard—then realized the interview required an addendum: “I definitely didn’t express enough that we do not take the term ‘rape’ lightly and would never want to advocate sexual violence against any human being. It was a play on words which we never expected to be used as an actual genre. If there is anyone out there that we may have offended, we sincerely apologize.” After that, Pitchfork removed “rape gaze” from the review and printed a retraction in italics (see bottom of review), which was gingerly worded and kinda came off like they removed it because Flax “disavowed” the term, but was the decent thing to do so I’m not gonna sweat it too hard. Clearly, Creep were referring to critic/professor Laura Mulvey’s definition of the “Male Gaze,” the idea that in film, particularly in its early incarnation, women are objectified, their femininity generally defined by how men choose to view them. I came to read the idea of “rape gaze” as a feminist in-joke that probably should have stayed that way.
BUT THE SHIT WAS PROBLEMATIC AND OUT THERE, so people reacted. Good friends and respected colleagues Sean Fennessey and Rich Juzwiack did a chatty convo about rape gaze and the tentpost of a rape-exploitation (?, from what I hear) film I Spit on Your Grave, recently remade and re-released. Hipster Runoff, a spoofy, sarcastic website written by a person who is probably smarter than a lot of other people, wrote a characteristically spoofy, sarcastic post about the P4K retraction. Meanwhile, a male writer at The Houston Press typed, “That’s why a few overly sensitive people took the whole “rape gaze” thing too seriously, we think: Not that it doesn’t sound like it’s a joke, because it totally does, but because many “legitimate” musical genres also sound like they were named as jokes.” UM CALL ME AFTER YOU’VE BEEN STUCK IN A ROOM WITH SOMEONE WHO’S BIGGER THAN YOU AND IS TRYING TO PRESSURE YOU INTO SEX AND WONT LET YOU LEAVE.
My very good feminist-writer friend Claire V. Lobenfeld and I both froke out to our friends about the term and the flippancy with which it was used. On some/separate occasions, male dudes told both of us we were taking it all too seriously (see above). Really, you think? Here are two other articles and things I read about on the internet last week, on the same days the rape gaze “fracas” was happening: a Yale fraternity marched across campus chanting “No means yes. Yes means anal.” And: College rapists almost always get off the hook, even when they are confessing. Sexual violence is not a construct. Sixty percent of rape cases go unreported. Writers should always consider that words have meaning, and that we sometimes have the privilege of shaping the culture, even in the smallest of ways. Words are like magic fucking light sabre sword pieces. Do not front. Claire and I were fairly beside ourselves about the whole thing and, inspired by Sean and Rich, last Saturday we decided to free-form gchat about it. Our conversation is after the jump.
Julianne: we should talk about RAPE GAZE
Claire: WORST GAZE. i’m sort of weirded out by the thing that was said in that village voice interview that attributed it to “bedroom eyes”
Julianne: i think it’s super interesting that it was jokingly coined by creep—i wonder if they meant it to be subversive in a way. but then subversive shit can’t be contained. the outside world gets hold of it and idiots use the term w/o context as A FUCKING GENRE?!?!?!
Claire: i get that to some people it’s overly sensitive to be mad at something like, but i can’t not be. i don’t know, is it good to try and bring something like that into the hands of idiots because de-tabooing is maybe a good step? i don’t think so, but sometimes i wanna believe that bad things can do good down the line. i just think it’s shitty when progressive people tongue-and-cheekily make reference to it like it maybe isn’t hurtful.
Julianne: agreed. though i’m not sure how rape gaze as a term for a niche, probably fleeting genre of music is going to help anyone understand anything more about rape, how underreported it is, how prevalent. i was just reading an article, too, about the low percentage of rapes on campus that actually get prosecuted, even when the rapists admit to fault. but then i just think of the basic idea of the male gaze, which i think creep was referencing
Claire: just reading the whole train of thought that it’s a pet/joke name for a look they give the camera, “Some people might call it ‘bedroom eyes,’ but no—we call it rape gaze.” just makes me feel disappointed. i immediately thought of shoegaze when it started coming up and people were saying things like, “well, that’s kind of what salem is like”… you know, rapey shoegaze. and i don’t like to pry ever, but i wanted to be like, exactly what is your knowledge of “what rape sounds like”? and then i started thinking about that french movie fat girl, where catherine breillat, the director, essentially clobbers any sense of what the “male gaze” actually means and turns it into something really terrifying because it is about rape and it is about someone who a viewer would never take pleasure out of seeing sexually
Julianne: YES THAT MOVIE WAS INTENSIVO
Claire: and if you intellectualize why rapegaze was coined, i think you and i are both in agreement of these academic constructs, but i don’t think anyone else is necessarily thinking that way—certainly not people picking it up for the buzzy touchstone. the whole thing also makes me realize how insular what we do is, but that’s a totally different conversation
Julianne: i just got really disgusted at the idea that we even have to be having this conversation, actually
Claire: yeah, it’s creepcity, right? and have ANY women addressed this at all? aside from creep, who have been interviewed about it? i’m not so sure. and i’m not trying to say rape is a women’s only topic at all, but it’s interesting
Julianne: it just goes back to the idea WHY WOULD YOU THINK IT’S AN OKAY THING TO TOSS OFF OFFHANDEDLY IN THE MIDDLE OF A LIST OF GENRES THAT WERE CLEARLY MADE UP BY IDIOTS IN THE FIRST PLACE
Claire: i think “witch house” is clever, i think “rape gaze” should just be like, “ok, i get it, let’s keep it movin’ and not have a whirlwind internet week with it”
Julianne: dude yes, because music writing is a giant boy’s club and most feminist writers outside of it could probably give a shit about altered zones, to super generalize (not generalizing about music writing being a giant boy’s club tho).
Claire: yeah, that’s what i was thinking about earlier today—if i said any of those things to my friends, “rapegaze,” “witchhouse,” “chillwave” they would be like, “what are you talking about?” i am pretty sure pitchfork got too “weird” for the people i know at some point, so it’s a really small problem, in the grand scheme of things, but i think since we’re all so attached to reading our friends and colleagues, it’s hard not to feel like its presence is so big and it becomes menacing when i feel like, “am i gonna be uncomfortable when i go through my google reader today because of this buzzworthy thing happening?”
Julianne: exactly exactly exactly. also, thinking about the idea of salem (a band i like) or whoever being “rapey shoegaze,” if that’s really what people think, i’m like, “Do I have to feel uncomfortable at their shows now?” ALSO. Is that the point? What is the construct behind this genre of music anyway, this idea that spookiness and discomfort along with varying levels of talent (ha) and junky equipment is so big right now. why do people want to feel uncomfortable? not all these people are on syrup and isn’t shit already pretty fucked?
and then it makes me think about privilege. i don’t want to be reductive but there’s a certain privilege in tossing off the word “rapegaze” [although i'm actually not including creep in that statement]. does that make sense? where i’m going with this
Claire: yeah, i know exactly what you mean. i think it’s kind of the same thing as progressive people jokingly using “gay” and “no homo,” like, i am so above homophobia, i can say “no homo” and it means the opposite. it’s like meta-insult
like, not only am i not being homophobic when i say something is gay, i am also making this insular criticism about people who use it as a pejorative with no remorse. like, we can use rapegaze because we’re all totally above gender bias in this super underground music landscape and so when we use rapegaze, we get to funny or jokey about it because we don’t really mean it
Julianne: yes. which is, of course, privileged bullshit. that line of thinking is basically crawling up yr own asshole Also WHO THE FUCK JOKES ABOUT RAPE?!!!?!!! No really, tell me, so i can stay away from them
durga just came into the room and we started talking about how people use the word as a verb offhandedly, like “oh he totally raped you” if you got ripped off or something
Claire: i hate to say it, but dane cook has a really good stand up bit about that, addressing the hillary duff psas about using “gay” to mean lame. he’s like, “where are the ones about rape? i don’t think losing in halo is anything like what someone goes through.”
Julianne: HAHA oh god. oh my god. [TOTALLY EMBEDDING THAT IN THIS POST PS]
Claire: contextualizing the whole thing, though, in that it comes from a place of privilege i think is what i have been looking for, to at least make sense of why this happened, and why it wasn’t just merely a point of shock and turned into a touchstone. i’m weirded out by how easily it was adopted
Julianne: exactly. that people use/d the term without questioning the meaning behind it, or really thinking about what a “RAPE GAZE” is or could be, again, reiterates how much people have crawled up their own assholes, like this whole woozy music scene is so insular that real-world things cease to matter
Claire: whatever, i am starting a CASTRATIONCORE band
Julianne: HAHAH CAN I JOIN